Writing retreats are a staple of nGAP life. These quarterly events are held at local conference venues and provide ideal conditions for writing, reflection and connection. Early in October nGAP lecturers and mentors attended a retreat at the Zevenwacht Wine Estate, Kuils River.
One of the main goals of the nGAP programme is the successful completion of a doctoral degree. The writing retreats provide a chance for sustained writing, and many take advantage of this, waking up early and burning the midnight oil. But there is also time for chatting and socialising. This is central to the nGAP mission of developing a new generation of academics, one that is inserted into new intellectual networks and brings new energy and enthusiasm to the academic enterprise.
The achievement of these goals is attested by the feedback from participants at the retreat.
“Thanks again for organising a wonderful retreat – it was a great opportunity to get stuck into some writing without ‘life’ distractions!”
“I truly have a great time at the retreats, and you make it all possible for me to get the opportunity.”
“The quiet and beautiful surroundings were amazing. The atmosphere was relaxed and conducive to focusing on my goal. Literature searches and paper reading require solid blocks of time, which are difficult to find in the everyday work environment, so this dedicated time is particularly helpful. Thanks for a great retreat!”
“With the nGAP writing retreat I was able to have a productive, quiet space to do some writing. Being in a remote place with nothing but concentrating on writing without disturbances is productive.”
“I enjoy catching up with the nGAPpers at the retreats.”
“Attending the Writing Retreat was an amazing opportunity! It offered a dedicated and focused period with little to no distractions. I particularly enjoyed working in a comfortable, serene environment. Best of all, however, I treasured the opportunity it provided to reconnect with self and others through great conversations over lunch and dinner table. It was an excellent time to build a collegial spirit among fellow ‘nGAPpers’ and to catch up on what has been happening in their lives, other than academics.”
The retreats also invite nGAP mentors to connect with their mentees. This is mutually beneficial.
One mentee reflects: “It is a good opportunity to be with the mentor and see what it entails to be an academic”.
And an attending mentor wrote about the “privilege” of attending and the luxury of “the unhurried conversations that promote understanding and generate ideas”.
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UCT has responded energetically to the New Generation of Academics Programme (nGAP), an opportunity provided by the Department of Higher Education (DHET) to build a new generation of black South African academics. The DHET’s 2015 vision document, “Staffing South Africa’s Universities Framework: A comprehensive, transformative approach to developing future generations of academics and building staff capacity”, proposes a suite of initiatives to address the challenge, with nGAP being the major instrument to increase the numbers of black South African academics.
The programme “involves the recruitment of highly capable scholars as new academics, against carefully designed and balanced equity considerations and in light of the disciplinary areas of greatest need”. The nGAP scholars are appointed into permanent positions where from the outset their conditions are customised to ensure their successful induction into the ranks of established academics.
The DHET provides funding over a six-year period to support the appointment of an nGAP lecturer, and their time is protected to provide the best possible opportunity for the completion of a doctorate degree in the shortest possible time. Once the degree is completed, the nGAP lecturer’s teaching commitments are steadily increased until they shoulder a full teaching load.
Since the first advertisement for nGAP posts in 2015, UCT has been awarded 17 nGAP positions: 5 (Phase 1), 4 (Phase 2), 3 (Phase 3) and 5 (Phase 4). These are distributed across all faculties.
UCT’s nGAP scholars operate as a single cohort, managed and coordinated by Dr Robert Morrell. Lecturers meet for quarterly meetings, writing retreats and various capacity-building activities all designed to support the completion of postgraduate qualifications (particularly doctorates) and to develop records of achievement that will testify to their emergence as self-standing, excellent academics. Each lecturer is mentored by a senior scholar, who provides support and guidance on the challenges that routinely face academics.
The nGAP manager sets great store in building the cohesion of the cohort and encouraging the establishment of new UCT networks while producing a collaborative, mutually supportive and embracing work culture.
According to Dr Morrell, “This group of academics will lead UCT in 15 to 20 years’ time ... Their vision of excellence, of being African and South African, of serving a wider community and producing knowledge for the planet, the continent and the country, will power UCT in years to come.”